How to Pay for Traveling with Kids Without Winning the Lottery
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Want to take a trip with your kids? How do you pay for traveling with kids? Consider these tricks for saving up and funding that vacation, debt-free.
Back in our credit-card toting, debt-defying days, we took a few vacations. We flew to Minnesota to visit family. We drove to New Mexico for a conference. We spent a weekend in Saint Louis just to say we had done it.
But, we always used credit cards. Typically I felt pretty guilty about it. It wasn’t our money we had spent. And we’d be paying for it long after the laundry was finally washed, and the kids couldn’t even remember the voyage. That was a little disheartening.
In 2009 we paid off the last of our consumer debts. A year later we decided to take our first, bonafide vacation. We drove up the coast, stopping in Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez, San Luis Obispo, and Monterey. We visited the Aquarium, slept in a funky hotel on the beach, and ate pizza at a place we’d never ever heard of. It was fabulous to get out in the world with our kids.
Even better was knowing that it was paid for.
There was no nagging feeling about how to strategize to pay for it nor any worry about whether or not we should or could buy something or do something. There was freedom and a lot of joy.
Since then, we’ve taken not one, but TWO extended trips to Europe, funding it prior to departure and enjoying each month abroad, knowing that it was all paid for — even as we traveled as a party of eight.
So, how do you pay for traveling with kids?
It’s really easy to justify running the credit card in the name of “family togetherness”, but I think the practice does more harm than good, especially in what it teaches our kids. Better to save for the trip, include your kids in the experience, and feel great about a fully-funded vacation fund.
Here are some ways that you can pay for that next family trip:
1. Set a goal.
When we got this crazy idea to take everyone to Europe, I ran some rough estimates for plane fares and accommodations. I had a rough idea how much we would need to travel in France for a month, plus a little wiggle room. As it turns out, most of that wiggle room got eaten up by inflation and a weak dollar. It was a budget trip, but we still had money leftover when we came home.
For our month in Great Britain, we were pleasantly surprised by a weak pound/strong dollar and came in ten thousand under budget! That’s a lot of fish and chips! With either trip it was super helpful to estimate our travels as if we were going today and save accordingly.
Estimate how much money you’ll need to take your trip and start saving.
2. Open a separate bank account. Maybe in a different bank. Without a debit card.
Years ago I opened a separate bank account in a different bank from where we normally do our banking. The two banks share a parking lot which makes it convenient, but they are not electronically linked in any way which makes it difficult to just transfer money when we might “need” it.
I even went so far as not to get a debit card for this account. I wanted the money as inaccessible as possible. Maybe you have great self-control. I don’t — always. I figured I wanted a double hedge of protection not to spend the money on anything but our trip.
This is a pain since the tellers cannot understand why I don’t want a debit card, so they are constantly asking me to swipe when I make deposits. When I explain I don’t have one, I have to dig out identification. It’s a momentary inconvenience though it’s worth it to make the money less easily accessible.
3. Find a way for the whole family to contribute.
I’ve heard of some families hosting garage sales, selling large items, or otherwise finding ways that every family member can participate in the funding of the trip. There are lots of ways to be creative with this and get your kids involved.
Two years ago I took a big poster canister and a world map and combined the two into this cool looking world canister, dubbed our Travel Fund, destined to collect loose change. The kids have made random contributions to the fund over the last six years and any money we find under the couch cushions goes here. FishPapa is known for bringing home pocketsful of change. It now holds our leftover pounds and euros from previous voyages.
Lugging this big old canister out of the closet and counting it out is always lots of fun — and quite time intensive. It was also a great illustration to the kids that little bits of saving do add up. With our first trip we had over $485 saved in loose change and random bills!
4. Put off other travel.
Before our European adventures, we typically took a fall vacation every year. We haven’t done that for a couple years in order to fund larger, longer adventures. We knew that if we gave into the requests for “Mammoth in the snow”, it would take longer to get to France. Or England.
However, we may give in to the snow requests still this winter.
5. Resist splurging.
Whenever you’re saving for something, it’s important to delay or decline other luxuries in order to meet your goal. We haven’t bought new furniture, cars, or other big ticket items during the last few years. We look at travel as a way to enjoy “mini retirements” WITH our kids while they still want to travel with us — or have no other choice. Ahem. 😉
Plus, we have our kids watching. We want them to know that saving for something big can happen if you put your mind to it.
6. Snowball it.
Like we did when we were paying off our debt years ago, we throw all extra monies into our travel fund. Some months there is no extra money. But, we keep at it, and we hit the mark.
To pay for traveling with kids doesn’t need to be credit-based. It needed take you ten years to achieve it, either. Persistence pays off. You can pay for that trip in cash. You just have to want it bad enough.
Want to know how our traveling has gone? Head here for the low-down on European Travel with SIX kids. Or our Great Britain on a Budget archives.
What’s worked well for YOU to fund vacations?
Travel with Kids
This is part of the Travel with Kids series. I’ve posted lots of tips, tricks, and tutorials for making all your travels fun, frugal, and family-friendly.
Be sure to read through the archives in case you missed a post.
Originally published October 2, 2014. Updated January 18, 2018.
Forgot to add that I am still saving 1/2 the money I get from my son but as of the 1st of this year  I plan to roll up $20 each week and put it in an empty soda bottle – that way I know I won’t have easy access to that! Will have to cut the bottom off the bottle when we decide when and where our next trip will be [he wants to go to Alaska to see the Northern Lights!!]
What great memories you are making together! And he’s learning some valuable life skills!
My son and I went to Pittsburgh this fall for a Steelers game. He saved money every week from his paycheck in a special savings account [proud of him – was never able to save before!]. He gives me money every week so I use part for groceries and part I put away in my special place. I also save all loose change, put money into a savings account monthly, have a “special” gas fund [set up from my last pay raise – pay bills, etc from what I had earned before and save the additional in a “Gas Fund”]. We also saved then cashed in our soda cans a week before we left[$.10/can in Michigan]. Our game tickets and motels were paid in full before we left [from our savings] so all we had to spend cash on was gas [Gas Fund], tolls, food, and souvenirs. We were gone for over a week and we both came home with money left over which then went for Christmas presents. Was so nice to go on a vacation and have the money to enjoy things we wanted to do and not worry about going “deeper in deb”!
My grandma always told us to get the card with the account and put it in the lockbox at the bank. She said that way it’s ready for when you travel, but to much hassle to get it for something small.
We travel since 1999 via homeexchange through the world and had seen a lot of places around the world. Most of them in Europe, cause we live in Germany. Our first home exchange was 1999 to California. I like these way of travelling really much. After the yeas I start to write a Blog about our home exchange live. So I haven’t to pay the membership fee any longer. But even if you had to pay, we only have to pay for the travel costs and the vacation extras like eating ice cream, go for dinner in a restaurant. Not for sleeping and not for renting a car, because we change this too.
My new fav way to save is the “. 5 buck plan”. Every time I have a 5 dollar bill in my possession, it goes in my secret stash. I can usually about “save” $300/every 3 months without a blink of an eye! Another fav “saving plan” I used from the year each of my children were born “the a dollar a week plan”. At the end of year 1, $52.00, year 2, 104.00 etc all the way to age 18 gave each of them a 936.00 + interest graduation present! So easy!!! PS I was a single mom 1/2 of their growing up yrs and was still possible!!! PSS… To this day, (retirement is closing in) our household income is less than < 30,000 and it is still possible to save AND enjoy some perks! My motto has always been to differentiate between wants and needs (and the most compliments I get are on my clothes from discount/thrift stores and haircuts from fantastic SAMs!) and look for bargains/coupons! Has worked for over 30 yrs!!!!
Great strategies! Thanks for inspiring us with little ways to save!
Thanks for sharing. My family lives in France and I can’t afford to go visit since I’ve had kids. I will start a fund!
You can do it!
I love this! We have done similar things for travel. A couple of years ago my husband and went on a short getaway for our anniversary. We added any money that we could toward our trip fund. Because I have a weekly budget and know exactly how much I have to spend on food, etc, I was able to determine if I had any left in certain categories at the end of the week. So, our weekly food budget (for our family of 5) is $70. If I only spent $65, I put the extra $5 into our trip fund. Those small amounts here and there added up!
Can you please tell me more about how you keep your food budget at 70$ for 5 people? Does that include non-food grocery items…cleaning products, etc?
Thirty years ago we sold our house, cars, and most of our belongings so we could fund a year in England where I was a Fulbright exchange teacher. Our kids were 2 and 8. Husband took care of the little one at our rented drafty row house, while older child and I walked the three blocks to school. We were twenty eight at the time and knew that travel would be an important part of our life. And travel we did, all over England, Scotland and France every school break. All of us look back at that time with incredible memories. Even the one that was two at the time who thinks she remembers all of it. Coming back was challenging financially, but would we do it again? In a minute.
Since then we save every month by automatic deposit for travel into a designated savings account. We don’t have a fancy house and drive old cars. Travel is worth every penny.
What an amazing time!
When we did a big trip for my 40th, we had started taking small chunks out of each of our paychecks and put into the vacation fund. So the money was “gone” before we got it. =) It was so worth the two years of waiting, and we look forward to another big trip in 6 years, either Spain or Czech Republic. I am loving these posts.
You’ve done smashingly – we fund our yearly vacation into our budget – but that’s a luxury 🙂 We want to do a european trip this summer or next [sob, before my eldest leaves for college!] and are noodling funding options – but one thing we will do is take any extra money and put it that way – outside the budget therefore painless but it would be blown soon enough if I didn’t segregate it! I do that ‘no connection’ account too – also no debit card LOL – cause I’m WEAK!
one great thing is the euro is moving in your favor. We have been pleased to see it go more toward equal in the last few months and they anticipate it getting more toward equal to the dollar within the next year.
That would be awesome!
We haven’t saved for a big vacation like your trip to France. However, we do take several week-long camping trips each summer and a few small trips here and there requiring a hotel room. I have a spreadsheet for our savings account to break out the funds with an amount earmarked for vacations each month when I make the monthly transfer to savings (along with auto insurance, HOA dues, life insurance, church camp for the kids, etc.) It’s so freeing to have the cash in-hand when you go on vacation!